Homemade bread is so appealing on cold, snowy days, but making it might seem intimidating. Using a bread machine is one way to achieve uniform, rectangle-shaped loaves which are easy for slicing. However, artisanal bread, with its more uneven shape and crunchier crust, is more conducive to pairing with hearty soups and stews; pieces torn from the loaf and slathered with butter.
Happening upon a method in “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day,” the dough is made ahead and the process broken into steps over time, making this ancient art and delicious reward much more achievable.
The book, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zӧe François, is aimed at making bread baking easy and enjoyable without the need for special gadgets, perfected technique, or expensive oven. The master recipe to make a free-form artisanal loaf uses water, salt, granulated yeast packets and all-purpose flour.
This no-nonsense, no-knead method pulls together the dough in a few moments utilizing any large food storage container, and a space on your countertop for the rise. The dough can be baked all at once or broken into fourths and baked one each day.
Once the ingredients are gathered and mixed just to moisten, the dough is transferred to the container, preferably with a loose-fitting lid, where it will rise for a few hours. The dough container is then placed in the refrigerator (unless you are going to bake it the same day).
Making bread in stages works better for most busy family schedules, hence the recipe’s appeal. When you are ready to bake, use a serrated knife to pull a softball sized portion of dough out of the bucket, sprinkle it lightly with flour and tuck and turn it into a ball, or boule as it is known. Don’t handle the dough too much, just pull the edges under the ball and leave it alone.
Let the dough sit on a cutting board coated in cornmeal or more flour for 40 minutes, uncovered. 20 minutes before baking, start the oven at 450 degrees F. Place a pizza stone in the oven to heat. Decent results can be had with a cookie sheet and a piece of parchment, though the crust may not be as crispy.
When the dough is placed on the stone or sheet pan in the oven, place a broiler pan or cast iron skillet filled with one cup boiling water in the oven as well. The water creates steam to form the crust on the bread. Bake for 30 minutes.
When the hot bread is pulled from the oven, let it sit on a rack to cool all the way around before slicing. In the time it took to read this article, your first batch of dough can be ready to go!
The Master Recipe: Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf) from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zӧe François
Makes four 1-pound loaves. This recipe is easily doubled or halved.
3 cups lukewarm water (90-105 degrees)
1½ tablespoons granulated yeast (two packets)
1½ tablespoons kosher or other coarse salt
6½ cups unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop and sweep method
Cornmeal to coat baking surface